tv Q A CSPAN July 27, 2009 6:00am-7:00am EDT
>> call is c-span funded? >> publicly funded. >> donations may be. >> if the government. >> through taxes. >> federal funding. >> public. >> america's cable companies created c-span as a public service. a private business initiative. no government money. > this week, our guest is sun jacoby, on her book "alger hiss and the battle for history." she talks about her 2008 best-
seller "the age of american unreason." >> in the words of your mother, why another book on alger hiss? >> my mother's exact words were, " who the hell cares about that anymore?" i explained to her that political intellectuals still cared about it a lot. she said "alright, but you're going to have to explain this book on why anybody under the age of 70 should be interested in this at all." >> what did you tell her? >> if one of the reasons people under the age of 70 should be interested is when i went back and read the contemporary press accounts, and not just that but the debates going on for the last 60 years really, i saw how many of the arguments of which the alger hiss case became symbolic, are being played out
in other forms today. a good example, i wrote this book before our economic crisis and before president obama was elected. but one of the great issues surrounding the alger hiss case from the standpoint of the right and the left was it was in many ways because he was a new deal official, it was part of the whole attempt to besmirch the new deal on the part of the right and on the part of the left, their reaction to it was the only reason you are doing this is to besmirch the memory of franklin roosevelt. wh could imagineo in the last year we would have a revival of the argument on whether the new deal was any good or not and obama's plans being talked about in terms of socialism. did the new deal work pools did not work? it is fascinating that some of these issues that the case raises are still around in another form.
the grandchildren of the original participants playing in out. >> what are your political beliefs today? where do you put yourself on the spectrum? >> in general? >> in general. >> in general i am an unabashed liberal and proud of it. not a neo liberal, not the kind of liberal assessed with communism. but a liberal that i consider an hon. designation. >> what things you believe then? >> that's interesting. nobody has ever asked me that. i believe not in an originalist interpretation of the constitution. i believe the constitution is a living document. i don't believe the geniuses who wrote the constitution in 1787 ever imagined if the stuff that we would say to wonder years from now. there were men of vision. they knew the economy they mehdin was not going to stay the same. that is part of what the
american revolution was about. they would not have expected that things would have been interpreted exactly as they were in 1787. so i believe the constitution is a living document. i don't believe it is to be interpreted exactly -- we should look into the minds of john adams and alexander hamilton and ben franklin, which were very different minds anyway. that is one thing. i believe that it is the obligation of government to help those who cannot help themselves. as the late hubert humphrey said "concern for people in the dawn of life, the shadows of life, and if the twilight of life." i believe that. i don't believe the free-market is capable of fully governing itself without stronger government regulation. i believe in a modified free market, which is really what we have had, but not enough lately.
and i am an absolute civil libertarian. i don't mean to say that i don't think we need to take national security measures or we don't need an army or anything like that. i mean, if there is an issue about liberty compared with national security, that has to meet a high threshold for me to deny civil liberties. >> in your book you give hints along the way where you have been in your life, including living for the first eight years in chicago. >> my mother met my father at a uso dance when he was stationed in the army in chicago during the second world war. my family then moved to michigan. after i graduated from michigan state, i went to work as a reporter for "the washington post." then i went to moscow with my husband who was a correspondent for the newspaper then. i wrote my first book on russia. if it's where i became interested in all this kind of
thing about spying and national security, because there was a lot of talk about that. anybody who has ever been in the soviet business, obviously is interested in this and in the cold war. >> where do you live now? >> new york. >> this book has been a big success for you. what year did this come out? >> that came out actually it was first published in hardcover in the winter of 2008. at the height of the presidential primary campaign. >> where does this book's it and where did you start writing it? when did you start thinking about it? >> it has been in the back of my mind, because i do live in a capital of political intellectuals of both the left and right. one of the things that struck me as strange is how obsessed a lot of people on both the left and the right still are with this case.
but i did not really begin to think seriously about writing until there was a conference about alger hiss in history at new york university. in the spring of 2007. i had just finished "to the age of american unreason." i went to this conference. what it was is there was some new research this time suggesting that alger hiss was not a soviet spy, but it was somebody else. i want to go into the details. nobody but academics are interested in that. but, who will was there was his stepson timothy hobson, who was in his 90's at the time. one of the things he spoke. he said that he was prevented from testifying on his stepfather is behalf in the trial by alger hiss, because
timothy hobbs and was gay and did receive a kind of a discharge from the army, so he would not have wanted to testify and have what would happen to his wife. second, he said that he absolutely knew that alger hiss never knew whitaker chambers, because the, always eight or nine at the time, never sought chambers come to his parents' house. the entire room erupted in applause because this was a left-wing intellectuals conference. the whole room erupted in applause. i thought to myself, what i saw was a really pathetic spectacle of an old man trying to earn his stepfather's love from beyond the grave, really. also, it was irrational. i cannot tell you who in my parents' house when i was 8 years old except for people who
were there all the time. the idea that that is some kind of accurate testimony for somebody to say if in his 90's that i never saw this guy in the house, so as a rationale oshowsa latiy. >> why doesn't the right like the book? >> the right doesn't like it because alger hiss, they say, did know chambers. they were both engaged in far left circle together. it does not mean he died on the stand. the reason the right does not like the book is because i'm on an 98% sure that alger hiss was a soviet spy. the 2% bit of doubt, as far as that's concerned, i might as well be thinking dinosaurs and human beings roamed the earth
together, which there are some right wing think people thinking that. >> why did the left not like it? >> i do think alger hiss was guilty. i think the left was blind to this for a lot of reasons. one of them is the reason i alluded to when we were talking a few minutes ago. i think that for a lot of the left, and never looked at the evidence really about this, because the mccarthy era, which the alger hiss case leads into, a couple of weeks after he was convicted of perjury, mccarthy waved his papers. the fact is that in many instances the mccarthy era was an attack on the new deal. the idea being that roosevelt was not someone who was a good american who wanted to reform american government.
that his administration was full of communists working for the interests of the soviet union and who did calculated damage to the u.s. i think, that, understandably, for certain kinds of liberals -- there also have the liberals who have accepted the guild of alger hiss for years, talking about farther left people. the attack on communists, the hunt for communists was in many respects an attack on the new deal. that is something that made it very difficult for liberals who came to -- came of age in the 1940's or 1950's to look at the evidence really. >> there's a footnote i wanted to ask you about. it is about a fellow that you said, by the name of george kovall. >> the soviet spy. >> i've always been under the
impression that harry truman did not know he had the bomb when he became president. >> that is my impression as well. but i am no expert on what harry truman knew about our weapon when he became president. >> you said this fellow worked under a russian spy and worked on the manhattan project. >> that's right. he was the son of american communists who went back to the soviet union in the 1930's. he spent the 18th first years of his life here, so we spoke perfect english. if at some time having been trained by the soviet gru, which was the military arm of intelligence. they sent him back. he had a full college education, electronics and all that. if he actually did work on the manhattan project. if there was a real spy . realwho appear so he spoke perfect english, was taken aback by his parents to the soviet union rej.
that is a professionally trained spy. most of the people called spies here, including the alger hiss, were not spies. the skills of kovall or the sam. cristi spread information to the soviets about the manhattan project. >-- he spread information to the soviets. >> the soviets knew there was a bomb. they were working on their own as well. >> let's get back to your book. >> that really was a footnote. >> it was. what did you do after this conference to get ready to write the book? >> one of the things, i was
asked derided by the publisher of the yale university press, jonathan bent. he's a soviet expert. they published a lot of books on soviet intelligence in america, not all of which i agree with. but this was to be a book, not rehashing the facts of the case, but about the media and scholarly fight over the case the way it's been presented, the position it has occupied at different times and why the case at such a long history. because one of the more natural things would have been that it would have just faded away after about 10 or 15 years. a lot of other cold war cases did. did he know before you what your views or or did you know what your views were about alger hiss? >> about whether he was a spy or what my political views were? sure. >> you were sitting in that room full of people that thought elder is was innocent. but you did not think he was innocent.
>> that's right. the point of the book was not about whether he was innocent or not but rather why people felt so intensely about it. guek give us the first reading you found? >> juan i've already mentioned is that the alger hiss case -- one i have already mentioned is that whitaker chambers goes to testify. he was a member of the communist party. he left in 1938. he named a lot of names of people he said were his buddies in the communist party. among them he said was alger hiss. who was an official in the state department. he made the administrative arrangements for the yalta conference. alger hiss is the only one who comes back and says i want to testify that he is lying. that is what does. meanwhile, richard nixon is the most active person on the house
un-american activities at a time pursuing this. a lot of the members back then were convinced because chambers seemed really kind of overwrought. this was the smoothest example of diplomatic polished, everything you would think of as an elite education and all that. that was the image alger hiss presented. by contrast, chambers looked a little wildly undone. >> let's stop there so the audience can see what they look like. we have a little bit of video. it was the first-ever televised hearing. >> yes, but it was televised, but one thing i pointed out in the book that is important in terms of perception over the years is the alger hiss case was the last big event in which television really played very little role.
only 10% of americans had televisions in 1948 when these hearings, a part of them were shown. people got their information from newspapers and from radio. television really played very little role in shaping people's perception. >> first we will get the alger hiss. then i will ask you more questions about him and then we go on to whitaker chambers. if this is so people can see what looked like and sounded like. >> the other side of this question is the reliability of the allegations before this committee. the undocumented statements of the man now calling themselves whitaker chambers. is he a man of consistent liability, truthfulness, and honor? clearly not. he admits it and the committee knows it. is he a man of sanity? getting the facts about whitaker chambers, if that is his name, will not be easy. if my own counsel have made inquiries in the past few days and have learned his career is not like those of normal men in
open books. his operations have been concealed. what does he have to hide? i'm glad to help get the facts. >> that was ridiculous more about him. >> about the alger hiss? >> yes. >> i look at that and i can see why most of the members of the committee were impressed by his testimony. it was true that chambers was a liar. alger hiss, he was his mentor at harvard was louis brandeis and oliver wendell holmes. they were his mentors. after he graduated from harvard law school he was oliver wendell holmes'law clerk at the supreme court. there is no bigger elite background then or now to this kind of thing. your mentor at harvard is a future supreme court justice. the job you get because of your
harford connection as clerk to oliver wendell holmes jr.. he went to work after the eckler chip with oliver wendell holmes for a hot shot law firm in new york. then in 1932 he comes back to work for fdr's agricultural adjustment administration as a lawyer. so many young people were enthusiastic about the new deal did the same. then he switches over to the state department. i'm abbreviating his career. if the point is that this is someone who was on a high career trajectory with great connections with all of the eastern establishment credentials. it is probably why richard nixon hated him on sight, because he was the sort of person who richard nixon hated. probably why nixon was more skeptical about him, because this is the kind of person he was skeptical about. in fact, the former "the new
york times" columnist tom wicker reports an incident when nixon first met the alger hiss. nixon said "i went to harvard, i believe your college was whittier." i can imagine what richard nixon must've felt. >> there was a common thread between alger hiss and chambers. you said in your book that alger hiss'father committed suicide when he was 5 years old. >> he was 5 when his father committed suicide. whitaker chambers had a brother committed suicide. i don't know how much of a common thread that is. one of the reasons that i am so convinced that alger hiss -- and by the way chambers was lying as well. if the first thing he did when he testified was he said that for as far as he knew, that alger hiss had not engaged in
espionage. the reason chambers said that but what the statute of limitations for espionage had not expired. when lg is made as denies charges, the statute of limitations on is in not had expired by then. and alger hiss cannot be prosecuted or is it not. chambers cannot be prosecuted or is it not. neither could alger hiss. the statute had expired before alger hiss as well. >> in 1948 where did alger hiss live? >> he was the head of the carnegie endowment for international peace. he was married. he had one son with his wife. also, his son, the man i mentioned, timothy hobbs and, by his wife's first husband also lived with him. when he went from the state department to be the head of the carnegie endowment for international peace, one of his biggest backers was former secretary of state dullis. the real irony.
>> your parents were for fdr and then went to eisenhower. >> that was perfectly, and. my parents were moderates in today's terms. the vast majority of americans voted for franklin roosevelt and dwight eisenhower. next going back to the intellectual thing, the adelaide stevenson thing. >> liberal intellectuals,no, but adlai stevenson comes in later in the story. but adlai stevenson was the kind of person, one of the campaign arguments against him, not made by eisenhower by the way, he was not appraised anti-communist crusader at all, but one of the arguments made against stevenson by the right in 1952 was that he had been insufficiently condemnatory of alger hiss. >> now to whitaker chambers to see what looks like and sounds like from the same era. >> i was very fond of alger
hiss. >> very fond of temple >> indeed i was. he was perhaps my closest friend. certainly the closest friend i ever had in the communist party. i don't hate mr. hiss. we were close friends. caught in the tragedy of history. mr. mihiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting and i am fighting. i testified against him with
remorse and pity. >> the logo in the corner for american writers was eight years ago is that is why it's there. but go ahead. >> that clip says it all. chambers looks overwrought, almost undone, sounds overwrought almost undone. if you put the two men together, anybody that richard nixon would think the crazy one would be whitaker chambers. chambers was a fascinating character. the best work, one was his own autobiography called "witness." it's fascinating. as an example of a really extreme temperament. and a biography on chambers is also a really good and talks about many things chambers does
not talk about. but chambers was a brilliant student of columbia in the 1920 's. he came from a class of brilliant people. mark van doren, the famous poet and father of charles van doren, speaking of 1950's icons, was his favorite teacher. he was in a class as a brilliant people, people like lionel trilling and people who were less intellectuals, but people who joined the communist party in 1924, chambers. that was early. most american intellectuals did not join the party until the 1930's? when they were shaken by the crisis of capitalism all around them and thought that maybe communism was the only thing to do. it is very unusual for an intellectual, american-born intellectual to have joined the party in the 1920's.
then sam chambers was a spy, although i suspect not one who had access to very much, because if it was the editor of a communist newspaper in new york in the 1930's parikh than in 1938 believe the party. >> why would somebody want to be a communist back then? what did it mean? >> in the 1930's y chambers wanted to be a communist, he was a true believer. you see that when he turned against communism as well. this was a man who was a christian scientist before he was a communist. this was a man wanted and needed something to believe in. he kept in touch with all his old friends from columbia, but they could not imagine why anybody would be a communist in the 1920's. in the 30's it was much more understandable for reasons that i just said, what seemed to be the collapse of capitalism. then later on in the decade
really the communist -- is talking about 1937 or 1938, thomas seemed to be the only people standing up coherently when england and france are lying down for hitler in munich and america was trying to stay out of it at that time. the communist party seemed to many american intellectuals on the left, especially jews, that this was the only force standing up to a nazi germany. that's after the spanish civil war in which hitler and stalin used retested ground for what would eventually become the second world war. so it is very understandable why a lot -- chambers'trajectory is unusual in that he left in 1938, when a lot of intellectuals were just getting around to joining.
so his was always a very unusual trajectory. this was his whole career. i believe that he was a close friend of alger hiss'. i believe it not only because of what timbers said. i don't think a man like chambers and a man like alger hiss, it whwawho were so differt with such different social backgrounds. one was working for "to the new masses" newspaper and another was on a rising political trajectory. i don't see how they could have even met for it not a political association. >> you mentioned the house un- american activities committee. what actually brought chambers into the spotlight? how did he then give these names? bo diddley give them to? >> the u.s. committee. -- > > who did he give the names
to? >> he gave them to a u.s. committee. there were the hollywood actors and others in the movie industry. then they went on to communists in government. chambers wanted to testify. he wanted to do everything he could to fight communism. as far as chambers and alger hiss, i think there was always something very personal. we now know -- we did not know if from chambers'autobiography, but we know it from many documents. at the same time that chambers was a communist and was leading the communist party, he was also a homosexual at a time when -- would have to read sam tannin house -- but that talks
about chambers engaging in sexual sex along the eastern seaboard. chambers, i think, certainly was some kind of mental case. that does not mean he was lying about his relationship with hiss. people who were intense about their political beliefs apparently can have real enemies as well. >> what was the source for you to know he was a homosexual? >> it is well documented. it is all in tannenhouse's book. he's the one first put together with everything else. chambers was a homosexual. >> you say in the book he admitted it to the fbi. >> he did. the document, which tannanhouse uses, they were released under
the freedom of information act eventually. timbres did admit this to the fbi because he cannot have that coming out as not having been told, but it did not come out at the time of the hearing. >> who is left that still cares about the issue? who writes a about it besides you? >> really, not very many people are left except those people over 70, right-wing and left- wing political conferences to care about his. what people care about and it's i i got slapped down by the left and right about the book, it is this, attitudes about hiss case where an absolute litmus test for where you stood politically in the past. but the debate, the issues that surrounded the case have not gone away. here is what we have.
just after this presidential election year, which seems a hundred years ago, but we have several themes which the alger hiss case bring up that are relevant today that people still care about and use to classify other people politically. first, is the whole thing about proper relationship between government and the society? you don't hear many people yelling communism except rush limbaugh anymore, but socialism has substituted for it. if that government -- public auction for government health care would be socialism. the idea of slapping the pinko label on something is very important to the left and right. here's the right wing script that dates from the days of alger hiss. the left was wrong about the soviet union in the 1930's. the left was wrong but the postwar soviet threat. the left was wrong about the vietnam war.
and skipping forward to the war in iraq, the left was wrong about the war in iraq and about the measures we need to take to combat terrorism. that is the right wing script about the left. all of these issues were raised at the time of the alger hiss trial. what is patriotism? what do you have to do to be a real patriot? who is a real patriot? the left-wing script is just the far left script, not the liberals but. it's the opposite. the right was wrong about the threat from hitler in the 1930's, which it was. the ride was wrong about the need for government intervention in the economy in the 1930's, which it was in my view. then the right was wrong about the strength of the postwar communist threat. that again is the left left-wing
opinion. the left is the reason we lost the vietnam war. it's only the left had stood firm, we would have won. finally today the left is all about the need for severe anti- terrorism measures. the left is wrong about torture. the left is wrong about guantanamo and about immigration. all of these things, there's a direct link. hiss, himself is not important, but in some arguments about patriotism today, you can hear echoes about the same arguments that were made then. >> recently robert mcnamara died. a lot of different publications, editorials and columns, it is hard because we don't have them in front of us, but a lot of people made apologies for robert mcnamara, saying he was basically a good man and that if things did not go well in vietnam, but he did the right things. if you see different sides. on the right off and they said
he was a better man than the left thought he was. kilmeade figure this out. where do you put mcnamara? >>-- held me figure this out? >> anybody would say the left has been hard on robert mcnamara's, anybody who had third opinions in the time of algeria's. if your view about the vietnam war was that it was a horrible disaster for this country, ending in dishonor, your view of robert mcnamara, even though he may have done good things at the world bank, cannot be that great. if you supported the vietnam war and you believed that if only robert mcnamara and kissinger and nixon -- let us not forget lyndon johnson was the person
who escalated the vietnam war, but the war went on longer under kissinger and nixon than it did under johnson -- so if you were opposed to the vietnam war, you cannot think well of mcnamara, but if you were somebody who believes the vietnam war, for instance the right today believes the use of the vietnam war to argue against or in iraq is a terrible thing, and so you can see in all the commentary on mcnamara from both the right and the left, you can see mcnamara was a cold war figure, whatever he did if later on. he was the chief architect of the vietnam war. the chief policy architect. just as dick cheney and wolfowitz were the chief policy architects of the u.s. war. >-- the iraq war. >> where were you? >> i was in moscow. at the beginning of the vietnam war i was working for
"washington post." so i was not involved in the typical anti-war activities that people of my age were, because you cannot work for newspaper then and be out on the streets demonstrating. i was not initially as opposed to the vietnam war as i later became. quite frankly, because i was not paying attention. i was much more interested in the civil rights movement in this country than i was in the vietnam war. i would say that my view was that of many americans, i began to turn against that war really in 1968 or 1979. where i became opposed to the vietnam war was in moscow. i lived in moscow from 1969 to the end of 1971. i wrote my first two books on russia when i came home from material i had gathered there. i was there on the day that the
shootings at penn state university occurred. the famous, iconic picture of the young girl over the fallen students there shot by the national guard. it was on the front page of the newspaper that day. i had many russian dissident friends who had an almost highly idealized view of the united states. because the soviet union was so bad. the u.s. must be good. the time i had, the question they asked was how, when the thing we look to for your country is that you allowe dissent, how do you reconcile that? they said there were so used to doctored pictures and they wondered if it was real.
i told them that it was real and that i had seen it on the wire. at this point i began to think, what kind of damage to our reputation of the best ideals, the best things that people around the world think america stands for? this is yet another thing. i think that is when i decisively turned against the vietnam war, when i found it impossible to explain to russians who had idealized america, how could we be shooting people for demonstrating against the vietnam war? >> this book, i wanted to ask you, the premise on the book and how much of the vietnam war has had an impact on this country and where it is today? >> it was not the only thing. in the age of american and reason, i have a very mixed view of the 1960's. i think there were a lot of things that were great about the
1960's. again, by the way, this is another thing that's the people who altink alger hiss was an evil -- pople who think alger hiss was a terrible guy, they blame everything wrong that happened, landed on the 60's. two things happened in the 1960's. dia civil-rights movement and anti-war protests. and the women's movement shortly after that. all these things had to do with setting, just because you are the government or the authority, you don't know best. i think, unfortunately, the vietnam war has not had nearly as much of an impact as i would have thought it would, because of the kind of historical amnesia that has characterized our country's over the last four
decades. that begins a little bit in the 60's radical cure of celebrity begins to enter. and people are getting all their news from visual images, which is in one way what turned people against the war. i think of the late 1960's as a time when we began to lose our attention span. the lessons of vietnam war, if they were learned, i don't think bush would have had so much overwhelming support early on for the iraq war. so i am not sure what to long- term effect of the vietnam war had on this country. >> i was reading your book, "the age of american unreason" when the michael jackson funeral came about. i thought it would be perfect as you about it. what was your reaction to all the coverage? >> here is one thing that has nothing to do with alger hiss. i think that the media
deification of jackson over the last couple of weeks -- it's about ratings and that's about it, i think it has been a nauseating example of anti- rationalism. michael jackson was a hugely talented singer and dancer. he is also almost a parable of the squandering of talent. michael jackson is an entertainer, called a million times on tv this week as "to the greatest entertainer of all times." he is a man who has not performed since 1993 because of the great problems in his personal life. he is a man who has spent millions of his fortune to make child molestation accusations go away. he is also a man who -- i was
amazed when i saw the clips. i had forgotten what a handsome young african-american man he was before he started having cosmetic surgery and turning his skin white. if this is a man whose troubled character is written on his face. for the news media to go along just with the funeral of the king of pop as though this is some kind of god and speak no ill of the dead is just ridiculous. i think there's a lot to be said about michael jackson. and one is a parable of talents squandered. >> based on your research on your book, what is going on with the television medium both they were -- they have been devoting wall-to-wall coverage. it went on for two weeks. it could continue to go on. newscasts when the president was in russia was almost unseen.
>> obama's trip to russia was completely displaced by the michael jackson stuff. we know what it is about. what it is about is the michael jackson coverage was going to draw big ratings. i think -- i am not saying michael jackson's death is not a news event. of course it is a news event, but not one that deserves the kind of coverage that the funeral of john tkennedy got in 1963. it is not a news event that requires that people talk as though there was nothing wrong with this man at all. as though the only thing legitimate to talk about is his great entertainment skills. but what this is about is ratings. tv is a medium which is losing viewers, particularly tv news. by doing this extensive coverage of all of the events surrounding michael jackson's funeral and
considering it a news event worth hours of coverage. the day of his memorial service, i would call that the next marketing cd, tv should have passed into damage group at the stables center to pay for the time if they wanted to televise it. >> let's go back to the hiss- chambers' story. the kind of journalism applied back then and stuff about journalism today. i would like to have you define after the years you spent in the business, what is journalism? >> i found, reading the journalistic coverage, the u.s. hearings and then the his trial in 1950 was front-page news in every newspaper in the country. they were heavily on the radio news as well. there were many right-wing paper is it who coverage it as though hiss was guilty from the beginning of the hearings.
there were many moderate newspapers which were considered the man left newspapers by the right then and now, which gave it very balanced coverage. i think that they covered it at much greater lent than anything like this would be covered today. the long testimony of both chambers and hiss, along testimony at the trial. there was no reason why anybody living in new york or washington where los angeles could not have gotten balanced coverage, even though there were many newspapers which had very slanted coverage. there was a lot of good coverage. there was a lot of good coverage even from the ideological publications. "to the nation" which was one of hiss biggest supporters who fell to the proceedings were unfair.
nevertheless, a journalist for them wrote very fair and marvelous articles. so many things about the trial. one of them was that it was one of the first trials in which psychiatric testimony was used. ithisshiss'defense lawyers called the psychiatrists' crazy. psychiatrists and did not testify in court all the time like they do today. it was an unusual event. if he spoke to a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist told him that basically -- remember he is writing for publication that thinks hiss telling the truth and chambers is lying and the psychiatrist basically said chambers may be crazy, but you could get up and make the case that hiss was crazy as well just as easily. the idea that psychiatrists are addictive people, which was not
then totally accepted, the psychiatrist said that is nonsense. this kind of reporting, it was extensive reporting, good reporting. americans could have mass media like the chicago tribune and other newsome others covered it from one side, supporting hiss. but there was their coverage from other media. a lot of media at the time of the trial. guek the fine journalism as you see it today based on all the changes going on? -- please define journalism. >> and then he about to the print coverage and television coverage in recent years there have been new books to come out, which has been pretty good. but it is long analysis of long
amounts of work, things that are dying out of our culture. i will say this, that even the most biased right wing coverage of the hiss trials in 1950 had enough testimony in its so you could learn something of what was actually being said. we are never going to have extensive -- we know what is happening with newspapers -- we are never going to have extensive coverage of these kinds of things to the degree that it was covered by newspapers and magazines, which are also shrinking today. that is not going to happen. there is no use going on and bleating about the displacement of newspapers by the internet. there is something that is much more concerned than that. which is that people are not really -- s internet -- spacths
infinite space, but the internet tries to distill news into the shortest form as possible. things like the pothe huffington opposed and the political and the national review. these are no substitute for newspapers. it's information gathered by a few numbers of papers left that still support actual reporting is what they get their news from. what the politico and the huffington post and all the on- line political blocs derived from the washington post and the new york times and the wall street journal, dinosaurs like those. what is going to happen when and if the newspapers continue to invest less and less firsthand
reporting? these blocks are mostly people's opinions about things. -- these blogs are mostly people's opinions. there's no way you're going to turn to the huffington opposed. it's not going to show a transcript of the testimony of a trial like that of alger hiss in the huffington post. there was a time they thought online editions would save certain newspapers. unfortunately, what has happened is first of all the young people are about the same proportion of the on-line newspaper audience as of the traditional print edition, which is to say a lot of young people don't read the on-line editions. they go straight to the internet where they are getting opinions that they agree with only. if you want on the reed
huffington post opinions, you can only read the huffington post. >> i want to ask about an important moment erode about in the book. it was when somebody went to the farm. >> i've not been there. >> what is the chamber's farm? let's show it and then i will ask about the importance of this in the business of the u.s. hearings. what role did the event at this farm -- this is in maryland, an hour or so from here -- where there were pumpkin papers. >> they were pumpkin microfilm. microfilm of government documents that chambers said hiss handed over to him in the 1930's. chambers does not leave the fbi to the newspapers in a hollowed out pumpkin in a canister in a pumpkin. if they had just been lying in
the pumpkin, the microfilm would have been rotten. >> is going to see the house as we turn the corner. then the pumpkin papers are in that yard. >> that's right. right there in the yard. there is no trial without the pumpkin papers because it was just here say. there is where they were. these are the documents which chambers claimed it hiss handed over to him. this is absolutely crucial moment because for the first time there is evidence. even though hiss was never tried for espionage. the reason chambers wait so long to do this is because he wanted the statute of imitations for espionage to be over for him as well, because after all he was receiving government papers. he could have been tried for espionage. but this was 1948. what happened to alger hiss?
>> he was tried for perjury in 1950. his first try was a year-and-a- half later that ended in a hung jury. the second one in 1950. convicted of perjury. >> it went to prison 44 months. >> yes. he lived into his 90's. he came out of prison. this is really condensing 40 years, but there was a time in the 1960's went america really turned against the old cold war assumptions. in the early 1970's, against a whole mccarthy era. a popular figure on college campuses then was hiss. then in 1978 a scholar named allen weinstein published a book about it hiss called "perjury." wine staweinstein got the docums
under the freedom of information act and made the case and alger hiss was lying. after that elder is never really recovered. had it not been for that book -- that is when a lot of liberals really decided it hiss really had done it. there had been other documents exposed as a result of the fall of the soviet union. but they are less significant than our own fbi documents. >> ronald reagan gave chambers the medal of freedom award. >> whitaker chambers died at a young age in the early 1960's. i believe it was 1961. chambers had long been dead. ronald reagan giving chambers the middle of freedom really -- i think it is disgusting to give somebody like that the middle of freedom. not because i don't think chambers was telling the truth.
because i don't think somebody who out a couple of people who may have given outdated government documents, that is not my idea of the medal of freedom. >> what was the overall reaction to your books since it has been out? to many people care about it? >> a lot of the people who care about alger hiss and issues about how we define patriotism. when does patriotism cross the line into a disloyalty? when to ideals cross the line into disloyalty? i think you could probably make a case that even if alger hiss was spying still at yalta for the soviets, which is the unstated right wing case against him, the idea that he effected the american negotiating position there is ridiculous. the position was based on how far the soviet troops were into poland. >> what do you plan for your
next book? >> i am going to keep that under wraps. but let me say that my next book concerned aging baby boomers. and our attitudes toward aging. i suspect it will make people a lot madder than the alger hiss book. >> obama aides american unreason,"how did it do -- and the"the age of american unreason,"how did it do? >> it did very well. a lot of people are concerned about the decline of our educational system. this was an issue in the presidential campaign. the attempt to portray president, then candidate obama as being too smart and elitist
did not work. a lot of people are really concerned about the state of our culture and our educational system. >> the yoeun and ipod --do you own and ipod? >> yes. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2008] >> next weekend, bruce chadwick on his book, the story of the
murder of a signer of the declaration of independence who had great influence over early american leaders like thomas jefferson. and james monroe. that is next sunday. . president of americans for tax reform. and the state department's active -- acting inspector general on the u.s. embassy in iraq. then u.s. policy i